No matter how you slice it, the phone's screen is the part you look at the most, and if that's cheap, cracked, hazy, or blurred, your e-mails, videos, stories, and games will look terrible.
Luckily, resolution is skyrocketing, and premium phones pack in more pixels than ever.
Of course, pixel performance isn't enough; the screen materials must also be top-notch. In addition, individual handsets' peak brightness settings are also in play; phones with a lower brightness setting won't look as good when you're out in bright sunlight.
Take a look at the many factors that go into top-notch screen quality, and enjoy our favorite smartphone screens to look at now, in no particular order.
Nokia Lumia 920 (AT&T), November 1, 2012
Unlike its immediate predecessor, which used an AMOLED display, the Lumia 920 keeps it fresh with a 4.5-inch IPS LCD display. The 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA) and pixel density of 332 pixels per inch come together terrifically at all brightness levels. You'll see deep blacks, rich colors, bright whites, and sharp text.
Nokia calls the Lumia 920's screen "PureMotion+ HD" for a few reasons. First, if you set the screen's sensitivity to high, you can navigate around using a fingernail and even gloves on a cold winter's day. Second, the screen automatically brightens when you go outdoors in bright light. That will improve readability, even if it requires more battery contribution. Lastly, the display delivers smooth videos and graphics free of ghosting, blurring, and lags. Read the full Nokia Lumia 920 review.
LG Optimus G Pro, May 2, 2013
The Optimus G Pro goes big from the start with a 5.5-inch full-HD IPS screen. It also has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, 400ppi, and the 16:9 aspect ratio is more standard and much more comfortable than the 4:3 ratio on the Optimus G Pro's closest relative, the LG Intuition.
Though whites had a slightly cold, blue-grayish tint, on the whole, the screen is bright and extremely responsive. It has a wide viewing angle, and you can see images clearly in both indoor and outdoor lighting. Colors are vibrant, icons are sharp, text looks crisp, and videos were a joy to watch. Read the full LG Optimus G Pro review.
HTC One, April 4, 2013
We're not exaggerating when we say that the HTC One is practically all screen. Indeed, the the 4.7-inch display dominates what is already a snazzy-looking device. Continuing the jargon wars, the (1080p) LCD display uses what HTC refers to as SoLux technology. That's supposed to deliver improved picture quality and generate 468ppi. What's more, the One's screen boasts the most impressive viewing experience of any phone that HTC has created.
So are the promises true? Well, in Brian Bennett's review, he reports that the One's display has plenty of impact with vibrant colors, wide viewing angles, and plenty of brightness. Details also looked extremely crisp. That makes for a close battle between the One and Samsung's Galaxy S4, but in the end the One takes the display prize. Read the full HTC One review.
Samsung Galaxy S4, April 23, 2012
As you might expect, one of the Galaxy S4's top attractions is its 5-inch 1080p HD display. It yields a pixel density of 441ppi, which is higher than iPhone 5's and lower than the HTC One's. Still, the Galaxy S4's HD AMOLED display nails it with color saturation and contrast, sharply defined edges and details. Articles are easy to read, gameplay looks good, and photos and videos look terrific.
Beyond color correction, the Galaxy S4 follows the Galaxy S3 in being highly reflective indoors and out. Even at its full brightness, it can seem dim outside when fighting bright light. On the downside, though, outdoor readability in strong sunlight was really tough. That made it especially difficult when taking photos. Read the full Samsung Galaxy S4 review.
When it comes to displays, Apple's iPhone 5 screen is an absolute beaut. The 4-inch Retina Display has a high resolution (1,136x640 pixels) and high pixel density (326 pixels per inch), and its IPS LCD screen material helps keep it crystal clear. The sun will always be an enemy of the screen. Read the full iPhone 5 review.